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Trio Seeks To Revive Island Off Puerto Rico
By CHRIS HAMEL
March 11, 2005
SOUTH HADLEY - Two women and a teen-age girl, who have been in the vanguard of the historic effort to halt U.S. Navy practice bombing runs on Vieques, Puerto Rico and revitalize the island sought support here this week for their cause.
Nilda R. Medina, Zaida I. Torres and 16-year-old Carmiann S. Cespedes, all of Vieques, spoke to about 50 people Wednesday at Mount Holyoke College, as part of the "Demilitarization, Environmental & Economic Justice Conference: The Case Study of Vieques, Puerto Rico." The initial part the continuing conference was titled, "Why Viequense Women Keep on Fighting."
The purpose of the conference's first round was to build solidarity and partnerships with the residents of the island, off the east coast of Puerto Rico's main island.
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The conference is sponsored by the Committee for the Rescue and Development of Vieques, co-founded by Medina, and the Voz Latina Media Project, led by Nadia Rivera-Nieves, a student at Smith College in Northampton.
"Solidarity is one of the elements that helped us win this great battle," Medina said.
President Bush ordered the closing of the target range in May 2003 after its operation for about 60 years in the face of global protest and civil disobedience on the island. In 1999, a civilian was killed and five others injured when a jet dropped a bomb in the wrong place.
"The struggle continues," Medina said. "We want total demilitarization, complete cleanup (of the island), return of our lands and complete cleanup of the bombing range."
Residents and others are concerned, among other things, about the toxins that have been spread into the environment by the continuous bombing.
Torres represented the Vieques Women's Alliance. Cespedes represented the Young Viequenses Leaders United.
The principal area sponsors for the conference's opening events were the Mount Holyoke College campus organization La Unidad, co-chaired by students Yaminette Diaz and Norma Iris de la Cruz, and Nueva Esperanza in Holyoke. Medina, Torres and Cespedes also spoke Wednesday in Holyoke at El Mercado at an event coordinated by Yolanda Nogue Velez of Holyoke.
Robert L. Rabin, also of Vieques and a board member of the rescue and development committee, served as a translator at the campus program, which was conducted in Spanish and English. He also helped field audience questions, after the women's remarks.